Can war cost a child’s health?

War is a costly thing. I think most of us know how badly exposure to the violence of war affects our service men and women and the trauma they have to deal with once returning home. What’s less known is how badly the exposure hurts those who are left behind. Each year, 2 million U.S. children have at least one parent deployed in the military. Sometimes those children don’t even get to meet that parent right away, or sometimes not at all. We are just now learning how detrimental that deployment is for those children as they grow up.

A new study from the University of Washington suggests a startling picture. An article from The News Tribune shares that the “new study suggests that when parents are deployed in the military, their children are more than twice as likely to carry a weapon, join a gang or be involved in fights.”

The outcomes from this study indicate a connection to the problem of secondary violence exposure in children. Secondary exposure to violence includes witnessing the violence or hearing about a violent act against a family member.  The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence finds that children “suffer from difficulties with attachment, regressive behavior, anxiety and depression, and aggression and conduct problems. They may be more prone to dating violence, delinquency, further victimization, and involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems” (p. 2).  This supports the new study and that boys and girls alike are affected by the departure of their parents.

The most important thing to remember is that children can be more affected than we think, because the study shows that “according to the findings, 8th grade boys who had at least a deployed parent were at a 1.77 higher risk of physical fighting and 2.14 higher odds of gang membership while girls in 8th grade with at least one parent in the military were at twice the risk of carrying a weapon.” So, health professionals and caregivers must watch for the signs of distress in children and stop them before they start.

Below are some resources to help get families and practitioners started:

  1. Safe Start Center Families and Caregivers Online Resources http://www.safestartcenter.org/resources/families-caregivers.php
  2. Military Children and Family Resource Page http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/military-children-and-families
  3. Resources Especially for Military Families http://nichcy.org/families-community/military
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